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Field of dreams gets name that will please

From staff and ECU reports

Keith LeClair  congratulates a player during East Carolina's run to the NCAA regional championship in Wilson during the 2001 season. After stepping down the following year due to failing health, he penned 35 baseball columns for before concentrating his writing efforts on Christian devotionals. (AP Archives Photo)

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• KEITH LECLAIR on ECU's Field of Dreams

• BETH GRANT: Actress Still a Pirate

Less than two months before East Carolina's soon-to-be-finished new baseball stadium hosts its first game, the facility's name has been decided. ECU's field of dreams will be known as Clark-LeClair Stadium.

In a Friday announcement, the ECU Educational Foundation, also known as the Pirate Club, revealed that the stadium's name will honor businessman and longtime school supporter Bill Clark and former Pirate baseball coach Keith LeClair.

Clark owns Bill Clark Homes in Greenville and is the developer of major real estate properties in other cities in North and South Carolina.

LeClair, a member of the ECU Athletics Hall of Fame, launched the Pirates to an unprecedented level of sustained success on the diamond before stepping down after the 2002 season because of the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

In making the announcement, the Pirate Club also acknowledged publicly for the first time that Clark was the biggest financial benefactor behind the $10 million stadium with the commitment of a $1.5 million gift.

Word of Clark's generosity had spread within the ECU community in recent months, leading to speculation among supporters of the baseball program about the naming of the facility.

The name chosen is likely to please a substantial majority of those fans.

Clark is regarded as a pillar in both the ECU and Greenville communities, while LeClair, a principle visionary in conceiving the stadium, permanently cemented his place in Pirate sports lore with his team's exploits on the field and his subsequent inspirational and ongoing battle against ALS.

During LeClair's tenure as coach (1997-2002), he earned positive and enduring notoriety among ECU fans for discarding the notion that reaching postseason play was the pinnacle of the program's goals. The Pirates were shooting for the College World Series in Omaha, NE, he proclaimed.

The Pirate Club, which formally initiated the fund-raising campaign for the new facility in 2001, noted in its announcement that the stadium "will eternally bear the name of 'Clark-LeClair Stadium.' "

In a statement accompanying the Pirate Club's announcement, LeClair expressed gratitude for the tribute and indicated a desire that the facility be a timeless testament to ECU baseball, past and present.

"My family and I are honored and overwhelmed to have our name next to Bill Clark's family on the new stadium," stated LeClair. "They have been so generous to our family the past three years during this difficult time in our lives and we sincerely appreciate all that they have done.

"I truly hope that when people see the LeClair name on the stadium, that it represents all ECU coaches and players of the past and present and all the great tradition this baseball program was built on. I am truly honored and blessed for this opportunity and I want to thank all the supporters that made this dream of building a stadium a reality."

LeClair compiled a won-lost record of 212-96-1 during his five-year stint, leading the Pirates to the NCAA Tournament his last four seasons, including three times as a No. 1 regional seed. In his final campaign, ECU qualified as Conference USA champions.

Clark, who has a lengthy track record of benevolence to ECU causes, indicated that his appreciation of LeClair's contributions to Pirate baseball factored into his decision to financially back the stadium.

"One of the reasons why I wanted to support this project was to get Keith's name on the stadium as it should be," Clark said in a statement. "I'm not sure one person has done as much for one individual sport as Keith has for our baseball program. I wanted there to be a legacy for Keith at ECU, something which would qualify the character that he has.

"This will be a giant step in realizing Keith's dream of the Pirates going to Omaha. It's a great advantage to host regionals and super regionals in your own park. Obviously, there's a much better chance to win those tournaments at home and be in a position to go on to Omaha."

In addition to operating his Greenville firm, Clark is the developer of residential communities in Raleigh, Wilmington and Myrtle Beach. He and his wife, Gloria, are the parents of three sons, Hunter, Lance and Heath. Heath Clark is a former baseball player at ECU.

Randy Mazey, a former LeClair assistant who has posted an 85-40 record since succeeding his one-time boss as head coach of the Pirates, thanked Clark and others for their contributions and pointedly noted that Omaha, the Mecca of college baseball, is still the program's intended destination.

"Our baseball program is very appreciative of the gift that Mr. Clark and his family has given us, as well as all of the people who have contributed, not just financially, but with their undying support of our baseball program," stated Mazey. "Our baseball facility will now be one of the finest in the nation, and I think that the future of East Carolina Baseball is very bright. This new stadium will just bring us one step closer to achieving our goal of playing in the College World Series."

Clark-LeClair Stadium is scheduled to open March 4, 2005 when the Pirates open their season against Michigan in the opening game of the Second Annual Keith LeClair Classic.

The Pirate Club has raised $9 million in private support to construct the facility, which has a price-tag in excess of $10 million.

02/23/07 11:21 AM

©2005 All rights rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. contributed to this report. An ECU Athletics press release was used in compiling this report.


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